Usually caused by smoking, COPD, which includes chronic bronchitis and emphysema, is the third leading cause of death in US.
The Lung Flute, manufactured by Medical Acoustics in Buffalo, uses sound waves to break up mucus in the lungs.
The device allows patients to clear lung mucus simply by blowing into it, which produces a low frequency acoustic wave.
In a 26-week study, researchers found that patients using the Lung Flute experience less difficulty breathing and less coughing and sputum production than a control group, which saw no change in COPD symptoms.
"This study confirms that the Lung Flute improves symptoms and health status in COPD patients, decreasing the impact of the disease on patients and improving their quality of life," said Sanjay Sethi, principal author of the study and professor and chief, division of pulmonary, critical care and sleep medicine in the Department of Medicine, University at Buffalo School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences.
The device is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat COPD and other lung diseases characterized by retained secretions and congestion.

Sethi's colleagues are now studying the Lung Flute for use in improving symptoms in asthma. The device is also being investigated for diagnostic use in tuberculosis and lung cancer.
The study followed 69 patients with COPD for six months; it was conducted at the Veterans Affairs Western New York Healthcare System by researchers at the UB medical school.    

Patients answered the Chronic COPD Questionnaire, which assesses changes in COPD symptoms and the St George's Respiratory Questionnaire, which measures quality of life.     

On both questionnaires, patients using the Lung Flute reported significant improvements.
In addition, the Body-Mass Index, Airflow Obstruction, Dyspnea and Exercise Capacity (BODE) score was measured repeatedly in the study.
"As the disease worsens, the BODE index goes up as it did in the control group. But for patients using the Lung Flute, the BODE index stayed flat," Sethi said.
Sethi added that the study points to a potential decrease in exacerbation, flare-ups of respiratory symptoms, as a result of using the Lung Flute.
Researchers are planning longer-term studies that will focus specifically on how the device affects exacerbation, a key part of what makes COPD patients sicker and leads to health care utilization.

The study is published in Clinical and Translational Medicine.

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